"Jekyll & Hyde" in Pop Culture

Seminar Paper, 2010
13 Pages, Grade: 1
T. Schlipfinger (Author)


II. Inhalt


Plot Structure

Mansfield's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1887-1907)
Robertson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Malmoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
Fleming's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)



Who would have thought that Robert Louis Stevenson's work The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde itselfwould develop a second persona? Nevertheless, precisely this seems to be the case. How else could one explain the reactions of people who read the novel for the first time? Potential readers who take a glimpse at the book's cover are often tempted to keep it shut, simply because they think they already know it. But after opening it and losing themselves between the lines many of them might have felt the urge to take a second look at the title, just to make sure. Indeed, the word "strange" in the title seems to describe the case quite accurately. There are many reasons for that: most people who read the book recognize neither the characters nor the plot, miss the women and could not care less for the mystery aspect, as they already know the twist.

This is the point of the matter - they already know the twist. This is because the names "Jekyll" and "Hyde" themselves have become a pop cultural phenomenon. Most people can connect something to them, at least the aspect of some kind of split personality. The aim of this paper is to determine the reasons for that. Therefore, I am going to take a look at the many adaptations of the novel forall kinds of media. This is because I want to find out if they played a role in the spreading of the general knowledge about those characters. In doing so, I am going to divide my paper into three parts in order to try to explain the "meta­split personality" of Stevenson's Novel. In the first part, I am going to compare the original notion ofthe novel with the modern views of Jekyll & Hyde1and thereby focusing on the changes that have been made. In the following chapter, I am going to expand on this idea by taking a step back and looking at some adaptations in more detail. This is followed by a last chapter on the influence the idea of Jekyll & Hyde had and still has on other works of art.


People tried to interpret the two characters, Jekyll and Hyde, in many different ways over the years. It is interesting to see that by examining Stevenson's characters over and over again, not only their interpretations shifted, but also their representations. In essence, the one only true interpretation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde does not exist. Stevenson does not mention what those dreadful deeds are that Mr. Hyde commits. He left a blank spot with room enough for the readers to fill in what they thought (Campbell 2008).


Readers did fill in. Interestingly enough, quite soon after the novel got published, nearly everybody thought Mr. Hyde to live out Dr. Jekyll's repressed sexuality, even though Stevenson clearly stated: "Hyde is no more sexual than another [...]. But people are so filled full of folly and inverted lust that they can think of nothing but sexuality." (Campbell 2008). This collective interpretation itselftells us a lot about Victorian values. People instantly connected the two personalities of Dr. Jekyll to the two-faced society of that time. Two­faced, because it was a time of double standards - often concerning sexuality in particular. The general tone towards it was very rigid and repressive, but at the same time pornography and prostitution boomed. Therefore, when Stevenson talked about some bad things Hyde did, without actually mentioning them, people connected that instantly to sexuality. As a result, Edward Hyde now lives out Henry Jekyll's repressed sexuality, namely in almost every single adaptation ofthe novel, from the first moment onwards. By shifting the emphasis onto this (hetero-)sexual aspect, a much discussed part of Stevenson's original story gets lost in modern interpretations: many scholars nowadays suspect a covert hint on homosexuality in his novel. Whether intended by Stevenson or not, traces can be found in many parts of the story. For one, there are almost no major female characters. Second, the double life that Dr. Jekyll had to live can be interpreted as the common necessary evil homosexuals ofthat time had to face (in the year when the story was written, homosexual acts between men were made a criminal offence). Even the words Stevenson used were examined for homosexual reference ("faggot" as much as the "back passage" through which Hyde enters Jekyll's home). Here it can be hard to separate actual hints from over interpretations, but the discussion is lively and interesting nonetheless (Campbell 2008).


Another major change from the novel concerned Mr. Hyde's appearance. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the latter is significantly smaller and appears to be younger then the former. The reasons for this are very simple:

"The evil side of my nature [...] was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed. Again, in the course of my life, which had been, after all, nine tenths a life of effort, virtue and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted. And hence, as I think, it came about that Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll." (Stevenson 1950)

In other words, because Dr. Jekyll never lived out, and therefore trained or nurtured, his evil side, it did not fully develop.2 As a result, they did not look alike either (in fact, nobody in the whole novel had the slightest idea that those two mindsjust shared one body). This also changed in the adaptations rather quickly, even though in this case, Stevenson did not leave blank spots for interpretation.


1 For the sake of clarity, I am going to use The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in reference to Stevenson's novel and Jekyll & Hyde for the modern phenomenon.

2Herein results another common mistake: "Dr. Jekyll" and "Mr. Hyde" is not "good" vs. "bad". It is "partly good, partly bad" vs. "exclusively bad".

Excerpt out of 13 pages


"Jekyll & Hyde" in Pop Culture
University of Innsbruck  (Anglistik)
British Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Jekyll, Hyde, Stevenson, Pop, Culture
Quote paper
T. Schlipfinger (Author), 2010, "Jekyll & Hyde" in Pop Culture, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/162733


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